UPDATE: Clark County public health director named to state Cabinet

John Wiesman will be the next secretary of health

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter


Updated: March 12, 2013, 5:04 PM


Inslee makes more Cabinet appointments

Gov. Jay Inslee has named two other directors to head up state agencies.

Inslee on Tuesday appointed Okanogan rancher Bud Hover to head the Department of Agriculture to replace outgoing Dan Newhouse. Hover’s family runs a hay and cattle ranch in Winthrop, and he’s a former Okanogan County Commissioner and current chair of the state Salmon Recovery Board.

Also Tuesday, Inslee retained Bette Hyde as director of the state’s Department of Early Learning. Hyde has headed the department since 2009.

— The Associated Press

The man at the helm of Clark County’s public health department for the last nine years will assume a new leadership role next month: Washington Secretary of Health.

Gov. Jay Inslee has named Clark County Public Health Director John Wiesman to his Cabinet as the leader of the Washington State Department of Health. Wiesman will finish out the month in Clark County before taking two weeks to move and vacation. He’ll begin his new position in Olympia on April 15.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead one of the preeminent health departments in the country,” Wiesman said.

Wiesman, 51, called the move a natural progression in his 25-year career in public health.

Wiesman began his career in 1986, performing HIV testing in Greenwich, Conn. In 1989, he moved west and worked at the University of Washington for three years. He then spent a year working for Public Health–Seattle & King County, conducting HIV research in high-risk populations.

Wiesman spent six years at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and another four years with the Seattle-King County department before coming to Clark County in July 2004. He’s served as the local public health director since then.

While working in Clark County, Wiesman continued to further his public health education. In December, he received his doctor of public health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In addition to his local service, Wiesman is currently the president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. He will resign that position April 1.

Marni Storey, deputy director of Clark County Public Health, has been named the county’s interim public health director until a permanent director is named.

Community partnerships

Wiesman points to several county-community partnerships as his biggest accomplishments in Clark County.

On the top of the list is transforming Clark County’s health department into a first-responding agency through collaboration with three other counties and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. The different groups acted as one team sharing resources to respond to the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak as it swept through the region in 2009, Wiesman said.

Wiesman said he’s also proud of the county’s work with Sea Mar Community Health Centers to improve access to primary care. Through the partnership, Sea Mar provides primary care to uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid clients at the Clark County Center for Community Health.

Another accomplishment for Wiesman was securing Clark County funding to continue the Nurse Family Partnership’s services to low-income, first-time mothers. He’s also proud of the department’s work developing and issuing the Growing Healthier Report, which will be used to incorporate health issues into the county’s comprehensive growth management plan, and increasing public access to such information as restaurant inspection reports.

“This community has been amazingly supportive of me, of my role and the department,” Wiesman said.

“It’s truly been nothing but positive,” he added.

While in Clark County, Wiesman has also navigated significant budget cuts. Since 2009, the health department’s annual budget has fallen by $5.5 million (about 33 percent) and its staffing by 71 positions (about 47 percent).

County Administrator Bill Barron praised Wiesman for his leadership during those times.

“We have been truly blessed by John’s energy, commitment and enthusiasm during very difficult times,” Barron said in a news release. “Southwest Washington will continue to benefit as he applies his considerable experience and expertise to statewide issues.”

Few people from Clark County have been picked by a governor to lead an agency. In 2005, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed former Clark County auditor Liz Luce to head the state Department of Licensing; Luce retired in 2011.

Current Secretary of Health Mary Selecky announced in February her plan to retire from the post after nearly 15 years.

As the new Secretary of Health, Wiesman said, his top priorities include working with other agencies to fully implement national health care reform, addressing childhood obesity, managing budget cuts due to federal sequestration and working to mitigate the public-health impact of climate change.

“It’s a full agenda with some big topics to address,” Wiesman said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.